Choosing what college you are going to attend is a big decision. Probably for the first time in your life, you are going to have a chance to determine where you are going to spend four or more years of your life. So don’t make the mistake that many high school students make and wait until the last minute to prepare for and select a college. Too often, students wait until their senior year—even the last semester of their senior year—to decide where they want to go to college. But for several reasons, it’s not wise to do so.
First of all, many colleges have specific admissions requirements, especially in the areas of science and math. If you wait until your senior year is underway to check into the admissions requirements of colleges that interest you, you may discover too late that you cannot get into those institutions because you have not taken the required courses. Also, some colleges have certain ACT or SAT score requirements. If your scores are not high enough to meet their standards, you may need to try again. The national test dates will determine when you may take these tests, therefore limiting your chances of raising your score before the application deadline. If you prepare for college in advance by deciding during your junior year where you may want to go, you will have more chances to take the test and to meet the college’s score requirements.
The college of your choice may have an early application deadline. Some of the more selective colleges want you to apply as early as your junior year. Others prefer that you apply during the first month or two of your senior year. Some have later application deadlines, but their deadlines for college scholarships may be as early as December 1. In such a case, the college may accept you if you wait until February or March to apply, but you will not qualify for any of the campus-based college scholarships. College tuition is expensive, so don’t let your procrastination disqualify you from any financial aid that you might have received if you had applied earlier.
Many colleges have summer programs—such as dual-credit programs, summer camps, enrichment programs, and exploratory programs—specifically for juniors who are trying to prepare by making college, major, and career choices. Quite possibly, your participation in one of these programs at a college you are considering may be a foot in the door for early admission to that college and may even mean some guaranteed financial aid for you. Waiting until your senior year to select a college will cause you to miss out on these opportunities. Granted, participating in a summer program may cause you to realize that you were mistaken about wanting to go to that college; but even that type of experience can be useful to you. Spending your money and a few weeks in the summer at a college that you realize really isn’t right for you is better than paying tuition and staying there your first college semester before realizing your choice was the wrong one. Then you’ll still have time to find the college that does suit you.
As a high school junior, you may not feel ready to make a final decision about the college you should attend. But it’s not too early to prepare in advance and begin narrowing your choices to five or fewer. Then you can begin visiting those campuses, learning more about the programs they have to offer, getting to know some of the admissions and financial aid personnel there, and talking with some of the students who go there. You can apply to as many colleges as you like, as long as you are willing to complete the applications and to pay the application fees. A great way to prepare for college is by applying to more than one school—and doing so early—in order to give you a chance to find out what each college has to offer you and allows you to compare and contrast them. Your college decision is an important one—not one that you should make at the last minute or without careful thought.